By Peter Jon White
As far as I can tell, there are two types of randonneurs. Some folks read the rules where it says, "It's not a race." and respond, "HA! Nonsense! Noncompetitive events are for losers!" Others read the same thing and respond, "Oh good! There'll be none of those pesky racer types, bunny hopping curbs with 20mm tires!"
If you treat a brevet is a race, it makes sense to ride with as little gear as possible, thumbing your nose at the rain, the cold, tornadoes, and whatnot. If a brevet is a long ride with beautiful views, hills and valleys and lots of other riders to share it with, with a time limit, and if you're doing it to enjoy yourself, then a few accoutrements are be in order. Racer type folks, read no further. Now mind you, I've never ridden a brevet. After 100 miles or so, I start to get cranky; sort of like a three year old with a worn out lollipop. But, having commuted year round in New England, and with the benefit of lots of customer feedback, here's my take on some accoutrements that can help make a long ride more pleasurable.
On a 200k, you'll be able to ride without carrying much if the forecast is for sunny skies in the mid eighties. But often you don't know what lies ahead, as with the longer events, and often you know all too well that the 200k's weather will be rainy and cold. When the temperature is 85 and it's raining, that's a good thing. The rain keeps you cool. But when it's raining and 55 degrees, being wet and exposed is miserable. The raincoat you bought at Kmart will keep the rain off, but you'll be way too hot and muggy from perspiration. Whatever you get for rain gear must be well ventilated. The best vents in a rain jacket are found under the armpits and across the back. That allows air to enter at your neck and flow through and out the back, keeping you cool. A better way to stay cool is with a cape. A cape is completely open below, so you get maximum airflow and cooling. A cape has one big disadvantage though. It has lots of surface area, and therefore you can get blown around when it's windy. I'd suggest carrying a cape and a very light jacket with pit zips. Use the jacket when it's windy, but otherwise use the cape. For a cape to be effective though, you'll need fenders. There's no point in protecting yourself from water above, only to have a fountain coming up from below. If you can't fit fenders, get the best jacket you can find. Carradice, Moonstone, REI and Burley make good rain jackets. Carradice makes two nice capes.
So, how do you carry the cape, the jacket, perhaps some rain pants, booties for your footies, and food, wallet, spare tire, tubes, etc? You can carry everything for a shorter event in a rack-top pack; but you'll need a rack. If your bike has eyelets for attaching a rack, you're all set. Otherwise, you can get a rack that clamps onto your seat post. But you may find that a rack- top pack won't hold enough. And for a longer event, it likely won't. One solution is a large saddlebag. Most saddlebags are no wider than a saddle. The thinking seems to be, if the bag is wider than the saddle, it won't be "aerodynamic". But actually, as long as the bag isn't wider than YOU, it hardly matters.
Carradice makes several large saddlebags that are wide, rather than long. This allows you to carry quite a lot of stuff, and not have it hang way off the back of the bike, where it can sway side to side. Carradice bags attach directly to some leather saddles like the Brooks B17, which has special bag loops built in. Most other saddles can hold a saddlebag with either a special clamp or with a quick release mount, both made by Carradice. If you really want to go in style, you can use panniers; nothing large, I'd suggest using panniers designed for front mounting, but use them in back. Ortlieb makes truly waterproof panniers. They are really just wet bags, the type used by kayakers, but with attachments for mounting them easily on a rack.
Most brevets will include some night riding. And all of the longer events require that you carry lights. So, how do you power the lights? You can use batteries. If so, you'll either have to carry all of the batteries you'll need for the event, or have batteries strategically placed along the course. And you'll have to judge in advance how much riding you'll be doing at night, so that you'll be sure to have enough batteries. On the other hand, you can make your own electricity with a dynamo. If you make your own electricity, you'll never run out. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have any battery lights at all. But if you have a dynamo, your battery lights can be just for backup in case of a dynamo wiring failure, extra light for that screaming descent down Middlebury Gap, or for fixing those annoying flats. There are two popular types of dynamos for cycling. One type runs off of the tire. A little roller is pressed against the side of your tire and spins with it. That turns the dynamo producing AC. These are called sidewall dynamos. Another type is built into a front hub. Hub dynamos are quiet, since you don't have the roller spinning against the tire. And hub dynamos generally have lower drag, since the only moving parts are those that would be in any front hub, plus the poles of the dynamo moving past the magnets. The two hub dynamos I'm familiar with are from Shimano, and from Schmidt. Of the two, the Schmidt has much lower drag, (just barely measurable) making it better suited for brevets.
Having the right equipment makes the ride far more enjoyable. Just don't tell those racer types how much fun you're having.